Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Braves Sports, Nov. 23, 2011

Photo by Karla Reynolds
Focused Braves eye return to Elite Eight
By Bill Reynolds
The pieces are in place for La Conner High to make another deep post-season run.
But veteran Braves' boys' basketball coach Scott Novak knows how tough a puzzle the newer eight-team State tournament format – pared down from the former 16-school, four-day event – is to solve.
"There are a lot of really good teams out there," cautions Novak, "to get past in order to make it to Spokane."
But history suggests La Conner is among the best of Washington's small school hoops programs when it comes to weathering steep graduation losses and re-tooling for repeat State tourney berths.
Novak and Braves fans are hoping this season is no exception.
La Conner is coming off a fine 22-6 campaign a year ago in which the Braves were perfect, 14-0, in league play and placed sixth at Spokane.
A corps of key returnees from that club plus an influx of talented newcomers bodes well for the task at hand.
La Conner brings back two first team All-League performers in 6-1 senior swingman Landy James and 6-0 junior guard Spencer Novak. They'll be joined in a potent backcourt by 5-9 senior guard Mike Wilbur, a second unit All-League choice last season.
The front court will be bolstered by 6-2 junior forward Tyler Howlett, who saw considerable action in 2010-11; newcomers Wil James, Cameron Sherman, and Sean Hulbert, all sophomore forwards; and 6-6 junior forward Jonah Cook, a transfer from Mount Vernon.
Returnees Jamall James, Jared Fohn, and Bobby Poulton provide versatility as well as game experience, as Novak will be able to employ each at either guard or forward.
An already deep backcourt will welcome 5-10 sophomore Skylar Krueger, formerly of Napavine.
The depth and relative size of this year's roster gives Novak plenty of options. He can go small, using multiple guards, to push tempo and score in transition. Or he can employ a bigger lineup and force opponents into a half-court game.
"This is the first time in several years," Novak said during a recent workout, "that we've had a team with this much height."
Things have meshed well thus far in pre-season practice. Those courtside have been impressed with La Conner's length and athleticism.
Yet Novak, a former Adna standout who has been a fixture here since the mid-80s, is well aware other factors play into the equation. 
The Braves, despite a deep roster, will need to avoid injuries and take care of business in the classroom.
"If we can stay injury-free and don't have any eligibility issues," says Novak, "this can be a special team."
One that can potentially be playing – and puzzling foes – well into March.  
"We have all the pieces in place," Novak says, "for a great season."

 Photo by Amylynn Richards

Photo by Ed Baker
Lady Braves Soccer 4th in State
By M. Sharon Baker
One goal was all that separated La Conner, Napavine, Bear Creek and Crosspoint Academy from the state championship and class 2B bragging rights.
One goal was all La Conner needed to beat Napavine, and a one-goal differential was all Bear Creek needed to best Crosspoint.
Unfortunately for the Lady Braves, the one goal was illusive – they couldn’t get one in regulation play against Napavine last Friday.  In a hard fought game, they had many opportunities, taking 16 shots on Napavine goalie Sami Taylor to Napavine’s four shots on Tessa Bruland. The Braves missed a penalty kick, missed a golden opportunity to put home a wide-open rebound, and an apparent goal by Kelsey Crawford was ruled offside.
“We had plenty of chances, plenty of opportunities to score, but it just didn’t happen for us,” said Coach Amy Freeto. “It was the worst shooting by either team I’ve ever seen.”
The Braves battled Napavine to a 0-0 tie in two overtimes, leaving the game to be decided by penalty kicks. La Conner’s first shot hit the crossbar, its second sailed over the net, and the third scored. Napavine scored on its first shot, missed off the left post, and its third missed too, leaving it 1-1 after the first three rounds.
La Conner then missed their fourth kick and Napavine scored, moving the score 2-1 Napavine.  La Conner’s fifth shot scored, but so did Napavine’s, making the score 3-2 and giving Napavine the 1-0 win.
The win gave Napavine its fourth trip to the finals in four years, and left La Conner battling for third against Crosspoint, which lost to Bear Creek 2-1 in the other semifinal game.
La Conner’s best showing in the state tournament was a fourth place finish just two years ago. In that 2009 consolation game, Freeto said she gave everyone a chance to play rather than battling for third place. This year, she said, she was playing for third, and the program’s highest ever finish.
However, the Braves once again failed to capitalize on many chances in a game they dominated. “Our girls owned the field for the first hour and Crosspoint was in a panic,” Freeto said. “We just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”
Crosspoint, which all year has had trouble fielding an entire 11-man team, entered the second half a man down as their main goalie suffered an injury.  The Warriors, which have two eighth-graders on the team, have played a man down many times this season due to injuries.
La Conner’s sweeper Sammie Mesman and defenders stymied Crosspoint’s forwards for most of the game. But early into the second half, Crosspoint’s Deseree Doty passed the ball to a wide-open Emma Laurion who beat Bruland with a high shot just under the crossbar, giving Crosspoint a 1-0 win.
Bear Creek took home top honors, beating Napavine 1-0 in the state championship game. Playing their last games for La Conner were seniors Finley, Emily Bruland, Baily Cunningham, and Braelyn Whited. A large core of starters return next year, including leading scorer Crawford, defender Mesman and goalie Bruland.
“We turned in our best performance program-wise and this was a tough loss,” Freeto said. “We’ve beaten (nearly) every team in the state finals in the regular season, so this was hard for them.”

 Photo by Amylynn Richards
from Braves Raves...
By Amylynn Richards
The girls’ soccer team has won fourth place for Washington State 2B League. The girls played for adoring family, friends and soccer team alumna on 18-19 November at the Chevy Stadium in Sultan.
Friday’s match was against Napavine for the final four; winners moving on to the championship; losers battling for third and fourth place.
The girls played harder than they ever had before in both games; Braves fans have every reason to be proud, Freeto said. “On Saturday I felt like, again, we dominated the match.  The girls were physically and mentally exhausted, we made some mistakes that Crosspoint capitalized on and again –we just weren't able to put that ball in the back of the net.”
The Northwest 1A/2B girls soccer all league teams were announced last week; nearly fifty percent of the first and second teams are La Conner Braves. Senior Nikki Finley was named the 1A/2B Player of the Year. Selected for First Team are: Senior Bailey Cunningham, defender; junior Sammie Mesman, defender; junior Ashlyn Reinstra, midfielder; junior Kelsey Crawford, forward, and senior Nikki Finley, forward. Selected for Second Team are: Sophomore Tessa Bruland, goal keeper; junior Lydia Lenning, defender; sophomore Taylor Edwards, midfielder; senior Emily Bruland, midfielder; sophomore Madi Cavanaugh, midfielder.
Senior Priscilla Ponce-Venegas shares the League Most Valuable Player award with Darrington Logger Jessica Brooks. Selected for first team are: Senior Emily Anderson; Kelly McClung; Katie McKnight; and Priscilla Ponce-Venegas. Selected for second team are Carly Anderson and Emma Christianson. Darrington’s Coach Greg Powell was selected as Coach of the Year. Shoreline Christian took Team Sportsmanship Award.
Senior Todd Hoagland has been named the sole 2B/1A Northwest League Player of the Year. Hoagland is also named to the First Team as midfielder; junior Tanner Cyr as defender; and freshman Hayden Schmidt as forward. Named to League Second Team are: freshman Erick Reinstra, keeper; junior Jamall James, defender; sophomore Tyler Baker, midfielder; and senior Kory Duran, midfielder. Junior Dylan Sicklesteel was selected as honorable mention forward.
The seventh grade boys’ basketball team played against Conway on Thursday, Nov. 18 at home. Scores are not often kept at the middle school level – the focus is on skill development.  Coach Michael Bliss estimates that Conway won by approximately 30 points. “Conway just had a ton of talent,” Coach Bliss said, “We actually did a good job defensively, especially the second half.” Case in point: although again stats are not kept,  Coach Bliss reports that “at one point, they had ten fouls as opposed to our one.”
The La Conner Boys and Girls club is hosting “Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children,” a free training seminar designed to help concerned adults take proactive steps to protect children from sexual abuse. The training is Wednesday, Nov. 30 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the La Conner Boys and Girls Club. Call Club Director Christine Valdez at 466-3672 to register or get additional information. 
The Parent Teacher Student Association is bringing back the very popular “I bleed blue” t-shirts and sweatshirts, just in time for Holiday giving. Order forms are available in each school office.

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